October 10, 2012
Even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:14-15
On September 18, 2012, Scarborough Baptist Church in Western Australia received a letter from the town council of Stirling.
It was not a nice letter.
The church was told it must cease all activities not defined by the city as being "religious activities." That was bad. When the council defined what was not religious, things got worse. On the list of things the church could no longer do were funerals, weddings, Easter services, youth groups, quiz nights to raise money for local schools, fairs to raise funds for world aid, and meals offered to the less-privileged members of the community. Space does not allow the whole list.
And lest the church think the council was bluffing, it was told there would an immediate fine of $1 million levied on the congregation and another $125,000 every day it remained in violation of the order.
The council did allow it might let the church do some of the things, if it filled out the necessary paperwork.
The congregation, which seemed surprised at the letter asked, "Why?"
The city replied it had received some complaints from the church's neighbors about late night activities.
The church replied a number of ways. It said,
1. Check out the facts. Congregational activities are done before 8 p.m., and we're gone by 8:15 p.m. Somebody else, not us, has been bothering the neighbors.
2. We are somewhat reluctant to let the state decide what constitutes worship. To us "ministry and worship" is done not just in a few hours on Saturday night and Sunday morning. We believe we serve the Lord by serving each other and the world.
3. We'd like to know what has happened to the separation of church and state?
Now I don't know how this is all going to turn out, but somewhere in the back of my mind there is a little voice which says this may be the opening salvo of gentle persecution being fired over the church's bow. Indeed, it may just be the beginning of communities with a Christian heritage trying to minimize the influence of Christ in their neighborhoods.
If that is not the case, and I pray it is not, then we, as Christians, need to be prepared to make a defense of the hope we have in Jesus, and we need to do it as this Baptist church has done, with gentleness and respect.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, defend us from all enemies of the Christ. Further, keep us ready to bear witness to the Savior and the work of salvation He has completed for us. This we ask in Jesus' Name. Amen.
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries